Ensemble romantic comedies are a dime a dozen these days, and let's face it: most of those star-studded flicks aren't even that good. But an ensemble superhero movie? Now that's an idea I can get behind. The Avengers rounds up an all-star group of comic book heroes who must get over their inflated egos and differences to take down a villain and save the world. It's a simple enough concept, and the combination of eye-popping special effects, humor, and a stellar cast makes for one hell of a blockbuster movie.
The cast of characters — and each one is very much a character in their own right — is mostly composed of people you've seen before and are happy to welcome back. There's Chris Evans as Captain America, whose situation as a '50s guy living in a 2012 world is funny to the audience, if not to him. Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as Iron Man, and his wisecracks and borderline obnoxious behavior carry the film and much of the dialogue; Chris Hemsworth is back as demigod Thor, though his role feels a bit downplayed in the midst of the rest of the hubbub. Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner return as Nick Fury, Black Widow and Hawkeye, the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who kick butt but are never really as much fun as their power-wielding cohorts. The only guy who's new to the group is Mark Ruffalo, who takes on the role of Bruce Banner (aka The Hulk) for the first time, and Ruffalo's so quietly engaging that you won't even remember Eric Bana or Edward Norton in the role.
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Taking on this team of good guys is Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor's maniacal brother who's literally plotting world domination. His quick wit and completely deluded view of the world make him a layered villain who's incredibly fun to hate. The fun doesn't even stop there: the film is chock-full of cameos and appearances from characters from The Avengers prequels, which is an added bonus for fans that have been following The Avengers since the beginning. You don't need to be a fanatic to enjoy the movie though; the film has nods to the previous films but it still makes for a nice introduction to each of the characters as they're rounded up one by one.
Writer/director Joss Whedon goes from Buffy to the big leagues here, and he masterfully puts together a film that goes big, but doesn't let action overshadow the script. The dialogue is packed with so many one-liners that you'll likely miss half of them because the audience is still laughing at the most recent joke. Though the humor pretty much writes itself with characters like these, Whedon is wise to make it obvious that the film doesn't take itself too seriously.
The action sequences are also handled with care; the fight scenes don't linger too long, and most of the scenes showcase each of the Avengers, which helps keep the pace moving right along. I'm not usually one to gush over special effects, but I literally gasped when Mark Ruffalo transforms into The Hulk for the first time. The scene, in a way, is like the film's secret weapon. The first transformation is teased throughout most of the movie, and the suspense builds to a moment that feels perfectly constructed to grab the audience by the throat.
The only downside to The Avengers is that with so many characters, you just wish you could spend a little more time with each of your favorites. The good news is that we'll probably be hanging out with them in many sequels to come.